Tag Archives: white privilege

Latent Warrior

I can’t predict my tragedies
I can’t defend proclivities
I may be able to say what is
That which I may never give
Over to those who wish to seize
The broken and battered memories
Of times remembered forgivingly
And dreams abandoned hastily
I don’t suppose it all is fate
But neither do I presume it ain’t
My whiteness lives outside of me
While I forever fail to see
Visions of those looking back at me
They fed my ego and took my most
Not for me said I and gazed
On such a life so filled and glazed
So much obscured the many signs
The world was tilted to me and mine
Now I wonder will I wage
The wars for justice I don’t engage

Why I Acknowledged My Bias

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAU9AAAAJDVlMjNjMjQ1LTIxOWMtNGViZC04ZjA0LWQ2YzgzZWEzZjlhYwI recently took to the keyboard and wrote about something that has felt wrong for a long time. I acknowledged my bias. I tried to avoid over explaining so as not to water down the message. The message being that even those of us who pine for a more equal world, who understand the vileness and ubiquity of racism and hate it, who at worst would be considered allies in the fight for equality, even we are affected by the structural racism that is so ubiquitous as to be invisible like air to those unnoticing of it and equally as unavoidable as air to those so effected by it. That’s one reason I wrote that piece. Here are a few more.

Firstly, I gave my testimony because it is true. I’ve been thinking about race and racism since I was a kid. I’ve had endless encounters with kids and later adults who said racist things and denied being racist. That’s okay, it’s not really up to you as to whether or not you are racist. To a Klan member I imagine they are perhaps okay with the title, but believing their bullshit completely they might think, ‘No, I’m not racist. I’m just aware of the differences between us that make me superior to N***ers.’ You don’t get to behave or speak in racist ways and retain any viable ability to assess yourself unless you acknowledge you are racist, at which point, by acknowledging it you’d be making an admission that it is wrong to be so. The truth is to the best of my ability I’m woke. But the reality is that I’ve been tainted by the environment in deep ways I can’t avoid. I can balance, I can counteract and I can own up. But I can’t avoid.

Secondly, I understand the power of words.The reality is that for all of my attempts to call out racism I’m afraid the coded message getting through is only reinforcing the beliefs of others who agree and hardening the defiance of those who either deny racism or ignore it. It’s worth sending the signal to those oppressed that you are on their side, but it is not really moving the conversation in a way that will reach the ears of those most in need of hearing the message. The reality is that it’s far more palatable to someone to acknowledge a failing or a blind spot after someone else does.

There’s real damage in suggesting we don’t see color. In not acknowledging the real ways that racist imagery and repeated reporting of only the worst of humanity in one segment of society has colored ones way of seeing the world. This type of racism is so ubiquitous that it is insidious. It can get in even when you are fully on guard and fighting it at every turn. I don’t remember the conversation around race being so suffused with people denying it’s existence when I was a kid. Sure, people didn’t really see how much it might effect an individual and might argue it isn’t as bad as it truly is, but we all for the most part acknowledged it was a thing.Nowadays it seems all shame has been lost by racists who come out screaming and yelling their ridiculous hate. Now more than ever we need to acknowledge it exists. Racism is real and it ruins whole lives and in shockingly large numbers.

Thirdly, it’s not my job to lead this fight. I can be as liberal as I want and I can claim to understand anything I want, but if I don’t acknowledge my role in the larger picture I’m tacitly allowing it. Once aware that there was some wish from some people of color for white people to acknowledge their bias if they truly wished to change things I had to do so. It’s the only suggestion I’d heard that was different. That could be something I could say, writing from a position of whiteness and maleness that could have an actual impact. I had to do it. Once I saw how it fit in to the larger conversation, I was compelled.

Finally, because we have to normalize the understanding that bias exists within us. It is real. We, even the allies, perhaps for now especially so, have to be the ones to say we know it to be real and the only way to do that so others can hear it, those who may know but not feel like they can say it, we have to be honest. How else can we ever hope to change a problem so ingrained in our hearts and minds. I want my kids to know that I tried to change this. That I wasn’t just acknowledging awareness and avoiding discomfort. That I was doing what I knew with whatever ability I had to make a difference.

How I Understand Privilege

‘I wish I was black.’ 

I was probably 12 years old or so when I said this and I was 100% sincere. In that moment, looking out the window as the rural landscape of western New York flew past, barely undulating and never ending I couldn’t have been more sincere. 

My life was basketball and I was a Piston’s fan, Isaiah Thomas was my all time favorite player. Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’ was my first record. And I mean vinyl. Might have been my last as well. Tapes were on their way. All the guys I watched on the playgrounds and at the college, whose games I emulated and whose styles I mimicked were all black guys. I was into early rap through my older brothers. We had cardboard taped to the floor in the basement and we spent hours a day working on all the moves we could remember from ‘Breakin’. I’m not sure I could ever windmill but I could do everything else. I was a badass little pop and locker. I remember someone getting a hold of a tape of Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious’ and hearing it and thinking I’d just heard the coolest and damn near funniest thing ever. ‘Gooney goo goo’ had me rolling, and for the life of me now I can’t remember what the joke was to that punchline. Whatever, his stories were so clearly real and it felt like a sneak peak into a life that I was fascinated by. A life I could only imagine. A life I couldn’t stop imagining. 

The appeal was made only stronger by the sense that they were fighting a battle I couldn’t really fight. My team, the one I was on not by choice, was the opposition. The ‘man’ and I didn’t want to be ‘the man.’ I wanted to be cool. Black people, to me at 12, were cool. I can’t remember which comedian I heard more recently who said, and I’m most certainly paraphrasing here, ‘God knew that black people would have to endure countless and endless suffering and to make up for it he gave us a lifetime supply of ‘cool.’ It’s kind of a joke and kind of a sad statement of the reality of what a lot of people have to face and how a certain number choose to counter the reality that won’t seem to change for the better without changing doubly for the worse at times. But at 12, for me, it wasn’t so nuanced. 

Beyond that I had a couple of role models in the house, older brothers who were the guys I looked up to most. I had two other brothers, actual brothers of mine, born of the same parents and all, and I looked up to them like crazy, but for some reason, perhaps my aforementioned affinities, I was drawn to my brothers who were ‘brothers.’ 

Eventually after processing what I’d said my father replied to my non sequitir calmly and wisely.

‘You probably shouldn’t tell anyone that. It’s okay for you to feel that, for now, but you should probably keep that to yourself.’ 

‘Why?’ I asked. 

To my mind it could only be taken as an honor, right? I mean I was saying I envied blackness. How could that be wrong? 

A thousand ways. Trust me, it didn’t take long for me to see that after enunciating my most sincere wish. 

‘Well…’ My dad thought. How do you tell your 12 year old that they are being so ignorant of life’s realities in a moment when they are trying, sincerely, to understand people different from them. 

‘I don’t think you are thinking about this, but it could come off to some people like you are not really appreciating all that you have been given. Might seem a little unaware of all that black people have had to go through.’ My dad said.

My dad’s not a ‘race’ guy. The issues confronting his own ‘kids’ would be dealt with when they would come up, but it was largely not a thing he thought about. He’s often surprised by how much I will think about race and the unfairness I’ve seen as I’ve grown up and watched. I’ll remind him, it would be hard for him to have my perspective, he didn’t really grow up in an environment like the one I did. He didn’t grow up in an integrated home within a largely homogenously white community. He didn’t see all the dads who’d go out of there way to drop the ‘n-word’ in front of me, just to, I don’t know, check if I was cool with it? Remind me that they thought my brothers less for it? Just to shock me? Maybe they were like that all the time, I don’t know, but from my house growing up it was the single most hateful sounding word ever. When I was a kid it was just barely starting to be reappropreated by black culture and these grown men weren’t aware of that. It was the ugliest of usages of the ugliest word. 

That day my dad stopped me cold. For him he was just responding to a sensitive issue, trying to steer me clear of saying something so wrong, but what he did was get me thinking. I knew instantly what he meant and it started me on a train of thought that has been a thread through my life. It didn’t change my heart in that moment, but it changed my head. Eventually my heart caught up and I came to understand how truly wrong my wish was. 

I’m still learning to understand my great good fortune. I’m so thankful I said that to my dad. So thankful that he answered the way he did. Through the years and phases of my life I’ve seen how it’s made me see things, things that are now so obvious to me that are so hidden from so many white men. About how much is taken for granted. 

When I was in high school and we were all sitting in suburban living rooms drinking forties of O.E. with our shoes off and watching Boys in the Hood and playing out fantasies that were others nightmares I knew the privilege. When we aped the style and patois of emerging disaffected young men who society rejected before they even arrived we were drowning in entitlement and dismissing and glorifying that which was exotic to us young men who would never have to face it. I recognized it, many of us did, for what it was not long after. 

When I was in college and heard truly vile hate speech being bandied about by the future executives of the world I was disgusted. The truth was there weren’t too many of them that did it, it was the tolerating of it all and the occasional sick deep indulgence of it all. I remember my mother, sitting at our kitchen table on a summer evening when I was home from school after my sophomore year telling me to love the people I loved for their good qualities and stick around to try to influence them positively when it came to the ugly parts. I don’t know. I didn’t really do that all that well there. Made some friends but I still have a lot of bitterness too. 

What I know is that ‘wishing I was black’ while sincere, was a privilege. It was a child’s understanding and I hope it came from a place of empathy and a desire to connect with and understand other people and their experiences. But it was definitely a privilege. The reality is that if a 12 or 15 or 28 or 45 year old black person were to ‘wish they were white’ it likely wouldn’t be from the same place of privilege as my wish came from. It likely woudn’t be naive. In fact I suspect it would come from a place of far deeper understanding than I may ever know.